Cultivating More Patience as a Parent
excerpt from Cultivate a Good Life Podcast
Listen to the episode and see the show notes at:
Rachel Nielson: I always thought I was a patient person…until I had kids. Can any of you mamas relate?
I have a naturally easy going personality and I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt, but I am telling you, these little humans of mine push every button and get me riled up and yelling like no one else can.
But I want to be more patient with them, and I will say that it has gotten easier for me to stay patient the longer I’ve been a mom…and I think that’s because I have so many opportunities to practice. Every single day, right? There is almost no limit to the numbers of opportunities that I have to practice staying calm when I want to lose it. And hey, when I get it wrong and do end up yelling in one moment, I can rest assured that I will have a chance to try again probably within the hour. The opportunities to practice developing more patience are nearly endless when you’re a parent.
I talk about this and so much more on today’s episode, which is actually an excerpt from when I was a guest on a different podcast earlier this year.
I’m sure you remember our guests from last week’s episode of 3 in 30: Becky Higgins and Becky Proudfit from the Cultivate a Good Life Podcast. I had the privilege of talking with them about patience on their show back in April, and they were so gracious to allow me to air an excerpt of that interview here on 3 in 30, for those of you who may have missed it on their podcast.
In last week’s episode, we talked about reframing anxiety, and in this episode, we talk about reframing the concept of patience. I love these ladies, and this is one of my favorite conversations I’ve ever had about parenting. I hope you enjoy it as well!
Becky Higgins: Thank you for that introduction, Rachel–here’s what’s really cool: When you bring podcasters together, you get to choose how you approach this. And the way we’re choosing to do it is, this is obviously our podcast and it’s our format of very casual, very chatty; but Rachel’s format, which we equally value, is a completely different style. It’s very succinct, very to the point, very tight actionable takeaways. And it’s very intentional the way it’s presented. And so we’re going to marry that together. We are being casual and chatty, but we’re going to now turn this over to you, Rachel, to do your thing, to share with us the three takeaways that are related to the topic, which is patience in parenting. So yeah, how do you want to kick that off?
Rachel Nielson: Well I will start off by telling you about a moment that I had where I redefined patience for myself, and it kind of blew my mind, and then we can talk about the three ways that I have been trying to apply that definition of patience in my life.
Becky Higgins: Love it.
Rachel Nielson: So I read an article a few years ago, and we all read a million articles, right? Especially back, you know, five years ago when I think we were reading a lot more because there weren’t audio options like podcasts. I mean, I read tons of blogs and parenting articles, so for one to stick with me this long…you know that was really impactful. And it was a story, and we can link it in the show notes, of a woman had looked up the definition of patience, and she saw that the actual, formal definition is a “willingness to suffer.”
Becky Proudfit: Whoa.
Rachel Nielson: Right? So she was thinking about that definition, “a willingness to suffer,” and she had a moment with her son where he was having a freakout tantrum, and what she wanted to do was to yell at him, to get him to stop because she was suffering and she wanted out of the suffering. But instead she decided to stay in the suffering with him, and she got down and hugged him and said, “Let’s breathe. We can do this. This is a hard moment.” And they calmed down together. So she refused to escape her suffering by having an emotional outlet and instead stayed in the suffering, and that was her trying to cultivate patience. That blew my mind, and it’s come back to me so often in the years since. In different ways in motherhood, I’m trying to stay in my suffering to do what’s best for my kids and cultivate more patience.
Becky Proudfit: Wowzers. This is a really amazing insight.
Becky Higgins: It’s just not the way that we think about patience!
Becky Proudfit: It’s kind of a remarkable thing our bodies do–constantly trying to escape, escape, escape, and it comes out in really bizarre wayst. It’s like a knee jerk reaction and stopping that process to slow down to examine what’s really going on is crucial. So I’m dying to hear your three takeaways because I will also be taking those to heart and using them in my life.
Rachel Nielson: Well, for me the takeaways are more applications that, as a mom, I think are really common. Every mom encounters these situations pretty much every day. And so to stop and think in that moment, “Am I going to cultivate patience and be willing to suffer right now, or am I going to take the easy way out?” And sometimes we do take the easy way out, and that’s okay. Sometimes we seriously just need to escape our suffering at that moment.
Becky Higgins: Absolutely.
Rachel Nielson: But there are other times when we could choose to be a little bit more intentional and say, “I’m going to stick this out.” And so my first takeaway is with yelling at my kids–that’s the first application, which I just gave you a pretty good example from that other mom. It’s interesting to think that the reason we yell is because we are thinking of our kids as making us miserable or inconveniencing us. “You’re inconveniencing me! Whatever you’re doing is so annoying or hard or interrupting me that I’m just going to yell…”
Becky Proudfit: Or what they’re not doing, let’s be honest. I mean, yelling is a motivator sometimes for getting the kids moving, getting going, and getting your school clothes on. You know when we have too little time, this is where this comes out. When we’re pressed for time.
Rachel Nielson: Yes. And so making that choice in that moment, like I said, to just stay in the moment with your child and have a calmer, better solution…I think is a huge shift for a lot of moms. I know it is for me.
Becky Proudfit: Totally!
Becky Higgins: And going back to the whole definition that we’re talking about: the word is “willingness.” Patience is a “willingness to suffer.” And so it really feels so proactive to me. We have to choose to be willing to embrace that moment for what it is, and that takes work. That takes a minute. You have to think about it ahead of time. I think that we all know that we set ourselves up for better success when we make decisions ahead of time. So Mama listening right now, make up your mind right now to choose willingness, to be willing to cultivate more patience in the next moment that you’re going to be tempted to not be patient. Am I making any sense?
Becky Proudfit: Yes, and that’s why I love the three takeaways! Because really what you’re giving us, Rachel, is little bites of the big elephant. Like we’re going to start tackling this problem one situation at a time.
Rachel Nielson:And just being aware of times when you might have the opportunity to practice patience. And that’s another thing that I heard on a podcast by an author, Paul David Tripp. He talked about the difference between seeing your children or your children’s misbehavior as an “opportunity” instead of as a “disruption.” He said most parents see it as a disruption, and like, “We’ve got to fix this and get it under control because you’re interrupting my life” versus the misbehavior is almost exciting, like “This is an opportunity for me to teach, for me to connect with this child.” And so being able to have that little shift of “this is an opportunity for me to practice patience and teach my child” versus “this is a disruption that I want to put an end to now because it’s making me suffer.” And how much better would we get at it? We’re practicing, we’re practicing patience. Think about how many opportunities our kids give us to practice patience every day.
Becky Proudfit: It is a plentiful, plentiful basket of joy.
Rachel Nielson: And I do think that most of us mothers probably can see that we’ve gotten more patient.
Becky Higgins: Yes, for sure.
Rachel Nielson: Because we’ve had lots of opportunities to practice it, whether or not we were consciously thinking that. So how far would we come if we were consciously thinking about it and practicing deliberately to become better at this?
Becky Proudfit: I love it. That’s so true. I know what’s going on my goal sheet next week.
Becky Higgins: [laughing] Okay, what’s your second takeaway?
Rachel Nielson: So the second area that I’ve really tried to cultivate this patience is by not using screens as much with my children, again as an escape for my suffering. So when they’re annoying me–my kids are still little, eight and five–and I want to get something done, instead of taking the extra step to like find them something useful or meaningful to do, I’ll just turn on the TV to get them out of my hair. Because I don’t want to suffer through them bothering me in that moment.
Or with their emotions…if they’re having a really big emotion and I don’t want to deal with it, the TV or the iPad is a really good distraction for them. But it’s an escape from my own suffering.
And I want to say here that I am not anti-TV. I like to use TV, on my good days and good periods of time, as a deliberate tool where I’m consciously deciding, “Okay at this period of time, I’m going to need a break to do these things, and this would be a good time for them to watch the show or this movie” versus a reactive coping thing where I can’t deal with them, and so I just put them in front of a screen because I can’t deal with them.
Becky Higgins: Makes a lot of sense, it’s a very big difference.
Rachel Nielson: Yes. And so I’ve tried to get really honest with myself in those moments when I’m tempted to turn on the TV or hand them an iPad: Why am I doing this and is it in line with my values? Is it in line with what I want for them and who I want them to become? And sometimes the answer is, it’s like “I can’t deal with them today” and I do turn on the show, and it’s okay. And I just want to say that…grace for all the mamas!
Becky Higgins: That’s what I was going to say is give yourself that grace, give yourself that patience.
Rachel Nielson: And sometimes you’re in a really dark spot yourself, like you may be going through depression or a really hard pregnancy, and you realize that you’re using the screen as the babysitter, but that’s all you can muster up.
Becky Proudfit: But even that awareness of like, “I know this is probably not the best,” it’s still going into it with a little more intention than just having it be the knee jerk reaction. And I’ll tell you, now having teenagers, it’s so important to practice this because when your kids become older, when they have big emotions, you’ve trained them to go to the TV. We’re really, really careful in our house, or I try to be very careful about screen time and all these things, and even as my kids are getting older, I still have to do a lot of negotiating with that and figuring out how that fits into our life. Because I see my kids having a really hard day at school, and they want to check out. They want to just watch TV. And not that that’s even a bad thing, but framing that properly for our children is so important. And really, for ourselves. Let’s be honest.
Rachel Nielson: Oh yes. When you were talking, I was thinking, “Oh my gosh, what am I modeling?” Because I think I turn to my phone when I’m feeling a big emotion I don’t want to deal with or when I’m just bored. That’s the other thing, I’m trying to develop patience when my kids are bored–because when your kids are bored, they’re annoying and they pester you a million times. And just sitting with that and saying like, “They’ll figure it out. They’re going to find something to do. They can be uncomfortable, and I can be uncomfortable for a little while, and we can both cultivate patience instead of me just turning on the TV right now for them.”
Becky Higgins: Yeah, that’s a good thing to practice. That’s what cultivating means is like really creating those opportunities by being aware of them and then just working on it every time.
Rachel Nielson: And I do think another area that I have really practiced this is with screens in the car.
Becky Proudfit: Us too!
Rachel Nielson: Yes, because I don’t want them to always need a screen when we get in the car. Even on a road trip, I don’t want them to always need a screen when we’re on a road trip, but of course they want one, and I understand that!
Becky Proudfit: And for Pete’s sake, it is so much easier to put on their headphones because you could have a conversation with someone, I’ll be darned, if your kids have that.
Rachel Nielson: And there are times when that is fine.
Becky Higgins: Totally! Better than fine!
Rachel Nielson: Yes! And there are times when you are road tripping by yourself, and you have all your children, and you just need to turn on the movie for six hours straight. But there are also times when I think, “If I just turn on the movie right now, we’re not going to have any conversations this whole road trip. They’re not going to learn to just sit and look out the window and think. They’re not going to see the scenery that’s around us.” Is it easier for me? Yeah, it is easier to just put on a show. But there’s times when I make the choice that I’m going to suffer a little bit, and I’m going to let them suffer a little bit, to cultivate patience so that we have this better longterm outcome, which is the development of their imagination, the development of our family relationships, memories and talking.
We went on a really long road trip this summer, and I just kind of tried to do a balance. I’m like, “We’ll watch a movie every day when we’re in the car, but we’re not going to watch a movie all day that we’re in the car.” And by the time we were driving home, and we were all just done, they watched a lot more on the trip than they did the trip there. But just being aware of it and what I really want them to be developing in themselves and how I have to be willing to suffer a little bit in order for them to develop the things that I want for them.
Becky Proudfit: Right. It’s interesting. I think in society, we have a really hard time with boredom because there’s so much input all the time. And so we started probably 18 months ago doing something in our car called “structured boredom.”
Becky Higgins: Do you actually label it that?
Becky Proudfit: Yes, the kids know exactly what I’m talking about. We’re heading up to our cabin later today. The kids know it’s structured boredom, and they’ll ask us, “How much screen time, and how much boredom time?” Because we realized our kids did not have enough time to be bored, and they were missing out on a lot of creative experiences because they literally are hardly ever bored. And the more activities kids are in, and it seems like our culture is moving towards more–more is demanded out of them, let’s be honest–and the social norm is a much higher activity level than I think it was when I was growing up. They’re not having those opportunities, like you said, to stare out the window and just be with their thoughts and just think.
Rachel Nielson: And we aren’t either! I turn on a podcast every time I get in the car. What about just sitting in the silence and thinking? That’s really important too!
Becky Higgins: Yes, I’m a very big fan of the silence in the car, for sure. It’s made a big difference in my life. And I think that there are times and seasons to that. I think that there are some times, when I’m either driving in the car or hiking by myself or going for a walk, that I really do want that voice coming in of the podcast I’m listening to or the audio book–because I’m so intentional with what I consume, so it’s good. It’s really good. Sometimes it’s audio scriptures or a really meaningful talk that really makes me feel like I’m becoming a better human because of what I’m listening to. But that whole principle of “good, better, best” has to be remembered. Sometimes, that is the best thing is for me to take that in, and sometimes the best thing is to turn off all the noise. It doesn’t matter who it is that is saying all of the best things, I need silence. I need to just be quiet with my own thoughts and just listen to the nothingness, and it allows me to feel things I would not feel no matter how good the stuff is that I’m listening to.
Rachel Nielson: I feel uncomfortable when I don’t have input, when I’m not listening to something. And it’s good to feel uncomfortable. But being somebody who’s very productivity focused, I justify a walk by thinking, “I am going to go for a walk and take this time away from work, but I’m going to listen to like a business podcast while I do it.” So it’s uncomfortable for me to not do anything “productive” and to just walk. I mean walking in and of itself is very important. But to do anything where I’m not also…like to drive without also learning something doesn’t feel productive to me. But thinking matters!
Becky Higgins: It not only matters, but some of my greatest, most profound moments personally have happened when I turned off the noise.
Rachel Nielson: Oh yeah, absolutely.
Becky Higgins: So what is your third takeaway?
Rachel Nielson: So my third way that I try to cultivate patience is by giving my kids chores.
Becky Proudfit: Preach! Preach!
Becky Higgins: You guys, you should see her body language right now. She’s feeling a little bit fidgety.
Becky Higgins: So tell us the feelings that go into you choosing that to be the third point that you bring up?
Rachel Nielson: Well, because giving them chores leads to suffering for me.
Becky Proudfit: It does! It leads to more work, I’ll be darned.
Rachel Nielson: And that’s also the phase of life I’m in. And people who have older children tell me, “It will be worth it and eventually you’ll have a huge payoff!” But right now, it’s not a payoff; it is suffering! To have to deal with trying to get them to do chores and remind them and deal with the whining…It would be so much easier for me to just do it myself. But when I think about what I want for them and the values I want them to develop, I’m willing to suffer a little bit in order for that to happen. So I have to be very patient–and also refer back to takeaway #1 to try not to yell at them when they’re not doing the chores that I want them to do–to teach them to be hard workers. Because it would be way easier for me to just shirk that and let them be lazy and say, “They’ll figure it out eventually!” which might be true. But I want to deliberately teach them to have a good work ethic.
Becky Proudfit: I think if we as parents can help our children to develop a good healthy work ethic, there’s very few lessons more important than that. Because the one thing that’s going to determine their success in the future is their ability to be uncomfortable and continue to work and to continue to strive and to find joy in that. And I think that the main thing that chores teaches kids is their capability, and you can start to build upon it. I promise there will be a pay off.
Becky Higgins: I just want to add to that because when you cultivate that kind of culture in your family and your home, then when they get to a point of their life where they are in an independent situation, and when they maybe are attempted with the idea of throwing all that out the window, they’re going to find themselves not liking that because they were raised in an environment and a culture that has been so ingrained in them. So when they don’t do it, maybe a few kids might find “freedom” in that, but for the most part, I think that they’ll go, “I actually like being clean and tidy. It feels good.”
Becky Proudfit: Turns out that being clean and tidy is where it’s at!
Becky Higgins: That’s part of what you have to look forward to, I think with, with the stage that you’re in with your kids, is that one day they’re going to actually get this down a little bit better and you’re going to get your patience down a little bit better and it’s all going to go a little bit better. And in the long run, they’re gonna know that the way that work and the effort that you’re putting into being patient with the chores is totally gonna pay out because they are in the long haul going to be cleaner, tidier adults.
Rachel Nielson: And I would also add to that that your kids may never get it when they’re home, but like you said, you’re instilling principles in them. I think I was kind of a messy kid. I never made my bed even up through adulthood because when I was working outside the home, I just would get up and I would go to work and my bed was unmade. Then when I became a stay-at-home mom, and now I work from home, it’s my domain and I care, and so I make my bed every day. And so I think for some kids until it’s their domain, it won’t click. But there’s also an element of being willing to accept your kids for who they are, even if that means a little bit of suffering for you, but continuing to love and be patient and not try to change them–still teaching them the values, still expecting them to work, but recognizing that maybe this child just doesn’t value this in the same way that I do or her brothers and sisters, but she’ll be okay.
Becky Higgins: She will be okay! And you’re totally right. If I am the one that’s choosing this path that I’m on, I’m going to be a whole heck of a lot more successful with it than if Becky or Rachel or my parents or my husband were nagging me saying, “This is the way you should be and I expect you to be this way and I think you’d be better if…” that’s not going to set me up for success. And so embracing that ownership that we each have of that space that we’re creating is really, really important. So back to the bed-making, good for you and you’re success because why? You chose it!
Rachel Nielson: Because I chose it and I care. And I do think it takes a tremendous amount of patience in our relationships to wait for people to kind of come around and to just allow them to be who they are and to love them anyway. Suffering is a strong word–my kids don’t make me suffer because of who they are–but sometimes it’s harder for me. Life is harder for me because they don’t conform to what I want. I love them fiercely, and I’m willing to you know, be patient with them and love them for who they are and learn and grow, if that makes sense.
Becky Proudfit: It totally does! We are not saying the kids make us suffer, but really that initial moment of discomfort is suffering because it feels a lot worse in second one than in second ten. Second one is the intense onslaught of like, “Uggh, get me out of this situation!” By second ten, you’ve had time to like, “Okay, calm down, Body. You don’t need to protect me. I’m fine.” You know what I mean?
Becky Higgins: And guess? Second one, two, maybe three is when we turn to our numbing tools. So that’s why it’s totally worth waiting and holding out until second ten because if you just get through the discomfort for just a moment, you’ll see that there is growth.
Rachel Nielson: If I can stop myself from yelling at my kids, if I can stop myself for even five seconds, usually I can get it under control and choose not to yell it. It is that initial second. And sometimes, you even know that you don’t want to do what you’re about to do, and you have that split second consciousness, and you’re like, “No want to, I’m gonna yell.” You make the choice because it feels good because there’s like a physical outlet.
Becky Proudfit: Isn’t that the truth? Our bodies lie to us. It feels so good and so justified in the moment.
Rachel Nielson: And then after, it feels so bad.
Becky Proudfit: So bad! And I would refer all of you back to the movie Inside Out if you haven’t seen it. It’s such a great place to start with emotions and giving a name and face to what you’re feeling. It’s a great movie to watch as a family and have great discussions about identifying your emotions, so that hopefully we can get these human reactionary tendencies under control.
Rachel Nielson: Yes, calm it down, take a second to decide who you want to be. And like I said, sometimes I still make the wrong choice. I think about who I want to be and then I’m like, “No, I can’t suffer. I gotta do this. I gotta yell.” But it’s getting easier. It is getting easier to make the conscious choice: “No, I want to be who I actually am and not default to coping mechanisms.”
Becky Proudfit: I love that: You want to be and who you actually are. And I think that’s a perfect way to tie this up is patience with yourself, right? As we’re all cultivating and working to be a little bit better and making better choices every day. Patience and grace for yourself, patience and grace for your children. And patience, I will dare say, I don’t know that any studies support this, but I really feel like patience is not something that is a natural attribute of humans. I think it’s a learned behavior, and it’s a behavior that needs to be practiced and keep that in mind as you are practicing patience. Little by little, day by day, being a little bit better.
Becky Higgins: Well, true to Rachel form, why don’t you recap the three takeaways? And I also want to give you the best news ever that we’re actually not even too terribly far past the 30 minutes. I mean, we’re at 38, but that’s not bad!
Rachel Nielson: Oh good! [laughing]
Becky Proudfit: You might be the first person we’ve ever been able to present to in under three hours.
Rachel Nielson: Well you’ve got the 3 in there…3 hours, 30 takeaways.
Becky Higgins: [laughing] Hey, don’t tempt.
Rachel Nielson: Okay, the principle here is to cultivate the “willingness to suffer” which is patience, and three places that you can start working on that within your parenting are: first, when you’re tempted to yell at your kids; second, when you’re tempted to hand them a screen or turn on the TV; and third, when you are tempted to not give them chores because it’s just too stinking hard to get them to do it. [laughing] Those are the three takeaways.
Becky Higgins: I hope you guys feel the takeaways from Rachel. She’s so good about really making that so understandable when you break it down like that, it feels like a takeaway that can be applied immediately. Thank you, Rachel, so much for your time and for being such a great example to us and to the people that you reach in your sphere of influence and for everybody who’s listening today. Thank you.
Rachel Nielson: I you ladies, and I admire your genuine desire to build up women and share goodness and light in this world.
For all of our friends who are listening… you’ve got this. Whether you’re naturally a patient person, or it’s something you work on every day, aren’t you so grateful for all of the thousands of opportunities your kids give you to practice? 😉 I hope this simple reframe of difficult behaviors helps you as much as it has helped me, and I hope you have a fantastic week with your family.